Alumni Spotlight: Lucy Gao


Lucy Gao, COL ’17, Chemistry

What was the last book you read? 

The Lost Art of Dying: Reviving Forgotten Wisdom by Lydia S. Dugdale. It’s about how historically people were much more focused on talking about death, and now we ignore that. The art of dying, so to speak, has been lost, and how do we bring that back to society today when a lot of the medical deaths that occur aren’t what we would traditionally call good deaths.

What was your involvement in research as a University Scholar at Penn? 

When I matriculated, I indicated that I was really interested in psychiatry research and got paired with Dr. Ruben Gur in the neuropsychiatry department. I was mainly interested in adding an interdisciplinary focus into medicine, so he paired me up with Dr. James Yi, who was a post-doc at the time, and later Dr. Sunny X. Tang. We worked together on the 22q project designing a pilot study to look at how children’s auditory perception capabilities correlated and interacted with the 22q11.2 deletion syndrome. Essentially, I was really interested in how music could potentially be used to improve these children’s quality of life. I ended up spending four years in the lab, including a lot of my summers. The paper was published a year after I graduated.

What have you done since you graduated from Penn? 

I went straight through to medical school at Yale. Since then, I have also done more research in child psychology and eventually switched to internal medicine based on how rotations have gone.

What are your professional goals for the future? 

I am really interested in doing clinical work with patients and clinical research involving end of life care and how we communicate with patients in the hospital about their quality of life. In a way, I am still trying to put the humanities in medicine, but to find that meaning for patients at the end of their lives, in whichever specialty that ends up being. That is my life goal now.

How has the University Scholars program contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development? 

Professionally, it has promoted a greater understanding of clinical work before going to medical school. I was always pre-med, but it wasn’t until I actually interacted with patients through the research program and shadowing that I really conceived of myself as practicing medicine and said this is definitely something I want to do. It also helped me to build a portfolio of research experience, which is very helpful for whatever I choose to do down the line. Academically, it made me more eager to pursue my own interests because I had the ability to start my own projects coming out of high school. I think having that experience propels you to ask questions in your academic life down the road. In medical school, we have a paid research year to do whatever we want, and I think it gave me the confidence to know what I’m interested in and conceive of my own project. Personally, I found a lot of the work that I did over the summer super meaningful. Getting to know some of the patients through volunteering and shadowing in the department brought meaning to it. University Scholars helped me find what motivates me in medicine, and I’m very thankful for all my mentors and our study participants for this opportunity!

What advice would you give to current University Scholars? 

Enjoy those college years and the amount of exploration you get to do before you have to specialize in something or pick a career. Being pre-med, it was easy for me get in the mindset that I had to do certain things for medical school, but it was really nice for University Scholars to push me to take a risk on a project. Sometimes it gets harder to do that down the road. A lot of times I miss college and the ability to take a bunch of courses rather than just medicine. I love medicine, but I think it adds more to your life to have all those experiences.